The central parts of the Kruger may not have the south’s sightings around every bend and the drier mopane veld may seem a little monotonous to some. We, however, also don’t have traffic jams and the accompanying tourist trampling at yet another sighting of the tip of the left ear of a leopard sticking out behind that green bush over the-e-ere…
Among many other great roads (especially the ones along the Letaba and Olifants rivers) and charming spots, we furthermore have Sable Dam.
Sable Dam is arguably one of the Kruger’s best kept secrets and a fantastic game viewing spot all round. It is a superb destination if you have limited time for a game drive as it is a mere 11km (15 minutes’ drive) from the Bushveld Terrace Hotel at the Phalaborwa Gate.
We say best kept secret, except for local Phalaborwa residents of course. They’ve discovered the magic of Sable Dam long ago and are seen daily slipping through the gate at opening time, thermos and camera on the passenger seat, to catch sunrise at the dam before the work or school day starts.
With its distinctive dead leadwood trees, Sable Dam is the only perennial source of water for miles around and only dries up during the harshest of droughts. Animals of the area inevitably visit the dam for a long, cold drink at some stage. It’s not uncommon to see the complete Big 5 in one day at the dam.
Here’s what to do to get the most out of a visit to Sable Dam when staying over at Bushveld Terrace:
- Organise a packed breakfast and takeaway coffee from reception the night before.
- Get up before the birds (the gate opens as early as 05:00 in summer), grab your breakfast and coffee and enter the park when the gate opens. Don’t forget your camera and binoculars - Oom Danie calls them his lang oë (long eyes).
- Drive east on the Phalaborwa-Letaba (H-9) road for about 9km and take the Sable Dam dirt road right. About 1.5km down the dirt road, you’ll see a little 2-spoor-paadjie (narrow track) on your right that will take you to the western shore of the dam, right up to the water’s edge.
- Park, switch off the engine, wind down your windows and breathe in the bush.
- Take a sip of coffee, nibble on your breakfast, have your camera ready and keep your eyes peeled.
Here’s what you should spot in only an hour or two at the dam:
- Elephant (Large herds of elephant roam the mopane veld and some of them are always at, in and around Sable Dam.)
- Hippo (The dam maintains a healthy hippo population, evident from the short cut grass all around the dam as a result of their night time grazing.)
- Crocodile (The resident crocodiles are always on the lookout for an unwary thirsty antelope.)
- Buffalo (A huge herd of buffalo lives in the area. Seeing them come to drink is quite spectacular. Old bulls and splinter herds are also around.)
- Giraffe (Witness the awkward bent-knees stance of the usually majestic animals when dropping their long necks for a drink.)
- Impala (Always in attendance. Always gorgeous to watch.)
- Zebra (Listen for their distinctive call announcing their arrival at the watering hole before you even see them.)
- Wildebeest (Close behind the zebra, these clowns will be snorting, grunting and kicking up dust.)
- Kudu (Seems content with standing around looking cool. A lot like the first team rugby players at a school dance.)
- Warthog (Wallowing in the mud pools around the dam or digging for tasty titbits on their knees.)
- Lion (When the smaller game scatter and the bigger ones turn their ears around nervously, chances are that the King and his family are en route for a drink.)
- Leopard (Seek the large local male leopard named Scarface or any of his 3 to 4 girlfriends lurking in the mopane shadows.)
- Wild dog (An established pack of the painted wolves roam a large area that includes this dam. Maybe you’re lucky, maybe you’re not.)
If you don’t tick off at least 75% of the list above on a 90-minute visit to the dam, you need to visit your optometrist or your perfume smells funny. No really, a bit of patience at Sable Dam is always rewarded.
The thatched building on the eastern edge of the dam, near the dam wall, is a bird hide where you can get out of your car and scan the dam and surrounding area with your lang oë. At night, the same hide can be booked as a sleepover hide, where the adventurous select few can experience the Kruger nightlife first hand. Hear a lion roar and a hippo grunt meters away from where you are sleeping. Ask reception to book this on your behalf at the Phalaborwa Gate when you make your hotel reservation. It’s very popular, so do this well in advance.
And there you have it. Perhaps the best place in the whole of the Kruger to experience the best of its charm in 2 short hours. You could do this all before breakfast.
The photos in this article are all taken at Sable Dam and published with courtesy of local wildlife photographer, Lisl Moolman. Visit her Facebook page or her website where you can browse her work and order prints of some remarkable Kruger scenes.